Forgotten Merchants: M. Schulz Co.

The rather drab gray building at 711 N. Milwaukee Avenue reads "M. SCHULZ CO.," as does the front door stoop in decorative tile.  Given its uninteresting appearance, one would figure this was probably just a small local retail business at one time.

In fact, M. Schulz Co. was a very successful major American piano manufacturer in the late 19th and early 20th century. Built in 1889, these were their main offices for decades. Their piano factories were located nearby at the Southeast corner of North Curtis (now Aberdeen) and Erie Street (the Kennedy Expressway runs through where this intersection once was located) and what is now 950 W. Superior Street.

The company was established in 1869 by Mathias Schulz, an immigrant born in Germany in 1842. After growing steadily for a few decades, the company was finally incorporated as a major business in 1891. He lived in a home on Damen Avenue where Big Star is located today in Wicker Park. Another Mathias Schulz investment, the Italianate-style building at 1537-9 N. Damen Avenue, still stands. After Mathias died in 1899, his son Otto became president.

The M. Schulz Co. built very high quality pianos and organs. Every piano sold came with a warranty that the instrument would last for ten years. As noted in their 1901 catalog, they prided themselves on paying close attention to every detail of piano production, from being made with the finest grade material to having the clearest and most accurate tone and scale in the industry.

Besides running M. Schulz Co., Otto Schulz owned other piano companies as well as a bank, as noted in this contemporary account of him in 1911. He was diagnosed with heart disease in 1919 but continued to run the company until 1925 when his son, Otto Junior, became the third-generation president of the company. Otto Sr. died on July 30, 1929 at the age of 58 and was buried at Rosehill Cemetery. The company had big plans with a child-size Marionette baby grand around this time, but unfortunately, these plans were never fully realized as M. Schulz Co. was forced out of business in the early 1930s due to the Great Depression.

Many M. Schulz pianos are still around today and a few can often be found being auctioned on eBay. Incidentally, Otto built the still-existing complex of storefronts and residential units at 1542 N. Damen Avenue, across the street from his father's Wicker Park building.

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